Public Comment Period Opens for Red Grade Trails
A 30-day comment period for the draft environmental assessment (EA) on the proposed completion of the Red Grade Trail System begins today, Feb. 11.
The Bighorn National Forest and the Bureau Land Management (BLM) Buffalo Field Office conducted the EA in response to a request from Sheridan County for a special-use authorization to construct approximately 17 miles of natural surface, single-track, non-motorized trails and to develop approximately 1.3 acres for trailhead/parking areas.
The project is led by the Sheridan Community Land Trust (SCLT), who have already constructed more than 5 miles of trails along the Red Grade. These trails have been open to the public since 2015. The construction proposed in the EA will extend the reach of the trail system up the face of the mountain and onto the Poverty Flats area on top.
SCLT Executive Director Brad Bauer said this final phase of trail construction will add quite a bit to the user experience. He said the vast majority of the new trails will be shared-use, but some sections will be equestrian, mountain biking, or hiking only. Also, Bauer said the trails will eliminate a number of user-created trails and replace them with purposeful, sustainable trails. Assuming the work is approved, he said construction will be accomplished over several years by a mixture of staff, volunteers, and contractors.
This draft EA provides a detailed study of the issues identified during initial phases of project scoping, including impacts to wildlife, plants, wildfire fuel loads, and other components of the local environment.
Sarah Evans Kirol, trail and forest coordinator with the Bighorn National Forest, stressed that no decision has been made yet. The information in the draft EA is everything the forest service has found.
“We need more comments on those issues we have identified,” Kirol said.
Overall, the draft EA seems to find that impacts to the environment from the proposed trails will be minimal. Some species, such as elk and moose, may be impacted but are known to avoid the area already due to heavy use of the Red Grade Road itself. Other species, particularly birds and plants, are expected to be impacted on an individual level, but the proposed work is “not likely to result in a loss of viability in the planning area, nor cause a trend toward federal listing.”
“We encourage people to comment,” said Chris Vrba, director of marketing and development for SCLT.
Vrba said the EA is a collaborative process that balances community input with a lot of other specifics.
“For folks who love Red Grade, who feel like there is public benefit, be sure to comment,” Vrba said. “Read through, let them know what you think should happen and why.”
After the 30-day comment period on the draft, all public comments will be reviewed and then a final EA and draft decision will be issued for those that commented with objections. Once a 45-day objection period is complete, the final decision will be made.
According to Kirol, the objection period isn’t standard, but circumstances in this case called for it.
“This one we knew would have a lot of interest in the community,” she said. “Because the project was proposed by the community, we wanted to make sure everyone was given a chance to comment, to know we are actually listening, and any issues will be analyzed.”
According to Kirol, commenters who object to issues specific to the project during the current comment period will be given “standing,” meaning they will be eligible to describe their perspectives at a resolution meeting held during the objection period.
Additional information and access to the draft EA can be found on the Bighorn National Forest website.
Comments can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Red Grade Trails, Attn: Andrew Johnson” in the subject line, or by hard copy to 2013 Eastside Second Street in Sheridan by March 11.